Lawsuits and Briefcases

Thirty-five years ago when I became a lawyer, I bought myself two very impressive items that I felt I needed to make me look like a real lawyer.

The first was a dark blue suit. My wardrobe in law school consisted of t-shirts, blue jeans, a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars, and a polyester plaid jacket I had purchased at JC Penny’s for fifty dollars. (I wore it in the moot court competition.)

In September of 1978, I cashed my first paycheck as an associate at Thomason, Crawford and Hendrix ($800! A fortune for a boy from North Memphis!) I then walked into Alfred’s Men’s Store on Second Street in downtown Memphis and had myself fitted for a navy blue Southwick wool suit. It cost $200 (!), and it was worth every penny. It looked magnificent. It made me look like a lawyer! Okay, I looked like a boy lawyer with a pathetic mustache, but I still looked like a lawyer.

I was so proud of that suit. I called it my “law suit,” and for the first few months of my legal career, I wore it every day. What else was I gonna wear? The polyester plaid jacket and jeans?

I also bought myself a pair of policeman’s shoes because my Chuck Taylor’s All-Stars would not match my navy blue suit.

And the second item I purchased was a briefcase. It was a beautiful leather briefcase that I bought at E. H. Clark Office Supplies.

You should have seen me 35 years ago, a rookie lawyer walking into General Sessions Court in my blue law suit carrying my legal briefcase. I was F. Lee Haltom, boy wonder lawyer!

In my briefcase I carried a legal pad, a copy of Gibson Suits in Chancery (even though I was in General Sessions Court) and a 1978 World Almanac. I had the World Almanac in my briefcase because when I was growing up, the lawyers I had seen on TV and in the movies often quoted from either the Farmer’s Almanac or the World Almanac in a jury trial. Young Abe Lincoln (played by Henry Fonda) used his copy of the Farmer’s Almanac to impeach a witness in a murder trial. The witness claimed he had seen Honest Abe’s client kill a man in the dark of night. He said he was able to see it because of bright moonlight. Honest Abe used the Farmer’s Almanac to establish that there was no moon in the sky on the night in question.

And in my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, defense attorney Fred Gayley used the World Almanac to establish that his client was the one and only Santa Claus!

As a young trial lawyer in a navy blue suit, I was always waiting for the moment to whip my copy of the World Almanac out of my leather briefcase and use it to bring justice to my client. It never happened, but I’m still hoping that before my legal career is over, I will get to use the World Almanac in a trial.

Thirty-five years later, I still have that briefcase, and I still carry it to the Shelby County Courthouse while wearing a dark blue suit. The late, great Judge Wyeth Chandler once said that I and the other lawyers for Thomason Hendrix “dress like you all work for the Memphis Funeral Home.”

I took it as a compliment.

The beautiful suit I bought at Alfred’s in 1978 was carried by moths to the Goodwill store decades ago. Sadly, Alfred’s closed its doors in the 1980s. I now buy my dark blue suits from JoS. A Bank or Brooks Brothers, and they cost more than $200. But they pale in comparison to that Southwick law suit I bought with my first paycheck.

My bride of 32 years still has a picture of me, circa 1980, wearing that suit. With my dark black helmet hair and mustache, I looked like Sonny Bono, Esquire.

My law suits are still dark blue, but my hair is now blonde. I am legally blonde. Well, okay, legally gray.

The legal profession has seen a lot of changes since 1978. We’ve gone from legal pads to iPad. But I still believe that all lawyers need law suits and cases. Briefcases, that is.

So here is my advice to young lawyers. Buy yourself a nice dark blue suit. Put your iPad in a beautiful leather briefcase.

And when you need it, you can always pull up the World Almanac on your iPad.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.